The absence of justice in the area of sexual assault in Africa would lead one to make a false conclusion about the reality of sexual assault on the continent, where the issue is highly contentious amid cultural and religious norms and expectations keep victims from sharing their stories and outing names.
Yet, the stories in the media show a disturbing reality.
In Ghana, the rape of a 4-year-old girl ignited massive outcry in October, especially over the role of a local chief in the matter, but the case is at a standstill as the Attorney General provides study and advice to the police. It is only in recent reports about the arrest of a 19-year-old girl who was raped by her Lebanese boss that the country got a name.
In Nigeria, three women bravely shared their #MeToo stories of sexual assault on CNN, which is especially concerning as they involve electoral/political officials. Nigerian writer Elnathan John spared conversation on Twitter around #MeToo as Nigerian female students shared accounts of sexual assault by lectures. Finally, reports circulated about the country’s shocking child assault cases of the year.
In South Africa, author and businesswoman Jackie Phamotse recently shared her story of being gang-raped at 17 by a government official, who is now, disappointedly, a Deputy Minister. The country continues to be rocked by sexual assault and violence as the world’s rape capital.
In Egypt, reports show that despite the growing willingness of Egyptian women to speak out about sexual assault online, the dire situation of women harassed on the streets is yet to improve.
Yet, elsewhere, reports of sexual assault are being met with especially quick and heavy response.
The Tsunami of Public Sexual Assault Cases in the U.S. & Its Consequences
The U.S. has been at the forefront of the global conversation on sexual assault this year.
The U.S. President, Donald Trump, who has been accused of sexual misconduct by 17 women, may appear immune to consequence, but three of his accusers have recently demanded an investigation, and other public officials are calling for his resignation.
Elsewhere in the country, public trial has been swift. Popular news host, Bill O’reilly, was fired after allegations of sexual harassment were made public. Film producer Harvey Weinstein, who has been accused of sexual misconduct by more than 80 women, was fired from his own company. Comedian Louis CK’s films and shows were cancelled. Senator Al Franklen was forced to resign. The CEO of tech giant, Uber, Travis Kalanick, was forced to resign.
Campaigns such as #MeToo have also gained prominence and reach in the private space. Legal journal, Lexology, reports that “one in five Americans report that close friends or family members have shared stories on social media about sexual harassment”.
Where Is Justice for African Victims & Survivors?
It is clear that Africa has a long way to go in this realm – in making the space for survivors to speak as open and candidly as those in the U.S., and to have those revelations mean something.
Unfortunately, where African leaders have made progress in this area, they have been inconsistent. In Tanzania, President John Magufuli passed a provision stipulating a 30-year sentence for men who impregnate or marry school children last year, but he just pardoned two child rapists who were sentenced to life in prison for raping 10 girls and banned pregnant school girls from going to school.
African women, girls, and the vulnerable must be assured that where reported, public response will propel consequence – financial, legal, and otherwise – as we have seen in the U.S. this year. Government response must be consistent, fair, and upheld.
The stories coming out of Africa regarding sexual assault must not just be for a media frenzy but must have real implications. In the new year, Africa must act on this issue.
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